Thursday, February 19, 2009

IBM and partner expanding power-line broadband

IBM and International Broadband Electric Communications of Huntsville, Ala., announced this week that they would offer relatively slow broadband Internet service over power lines to five more rural electric cooperatives in Alabama, Indiana, Michigan and Virginia, making a total of six out of a planned 13 in seven states. We first reported the partnership in November.

"There appears to be pent-up demand in these areas," Saul Hansell of The New York Times writes on the newspaper's Bits (Business, innovation, technology, society) blog. "One Michigan cooperative signed up 5,000 customers in the first two weeks, said Raymond Blair, the director of advanced networks for IBM. These deployments have been subsidized by low-interest loans from the Rural Development program of the Department of Agriculture, which is going to get a big chunk of new money for loans and grants from the stimulus bill that was just signed."

With a signal amplifier on each mile of power line, "the signal can be sent 25 miles from a substation, far longer than DSL service over phone wires," Hansell reports. "Blair said this technology has been cost-effective in areas that have five to fifteen people living near each mile of line. The government grants might even encourage power companies to install it in even more sparsely populated areas. ... Blair said that delivery over power lines could be especially good for hilly terrain that blocks wireless signals."

While the service is relatively slow and expensive, $29.95 a month for 256 KB and $49.95 for 1 MB, even the slower version is 10 times faster than dial-up, which is "totally inadequate for the nature of the Internet in this world,” Blair told the Times. (Read more)

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